A 22-year old woman known as 'HC' who has had amnesia since birth has shown scientists at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute that she is impaired when it comes to retaining unfamiliar faces, but when she is shown a photo of someone familiar, like Hollywood celebrity Paris Hilton, she can more easily recall it within a few seconds. The findings were similar when HC was asked to remember familiar words, like 'direction', compared to less familiar words, like 'fledgling'.
HC was deprived of oxygen in her first week of life, and as a result, the hippocampus developed poorly. It is only about half the size that it should. The hippocampus plays an important role in helping us organize both our short-term and long-term memory. Therefore, HC often has trouble
recalling events from even a few years ago.
Researchers noted that the hippocampus is indeed crucial for forming short-term memories, but
only if the material that is being remembered is brand new. If the item
is familiar to the person then there is no problem. The brain uses other parts of the brain to store the memory.
The study has been posted online in the science journal 'Neuropsychologia'.